Monday, August 27, 2007

Violence in Byrd Park produces ripples of turmoil

My email box has been flooded with Byrd Park neighborhood organizing emails this morning and I would like to chime in with some praise for the energy that my neighbors are putting into their response to the two shootings this month in the two blocks around my home. It’s a stressful topic in my household, and I’m glad to see something moving that my wife and I can plug into (see 9/8 meeting announcement below). We’ve lived here just under three years (our first house) and don’t wanna relocate so we can start a family in relative security. I keep reminding myself that violence and crime have been steadily declining in Byrd Park for over a decade, and we need to keep up the positive momentum. Our neighborhood is a great place to live (although there is some boneheaded real estate development going on) and we should talk to our neighbors to confirm this fact and make the community we want to live in.

For starters, I think that strengthened personal relationships with the people who live in our surrounding blocks is a necessary part of a personal safety and security plan. Block parties and neighborhood meetings help, but mostly it is day-to-day openness and congeniality that maintain effective communication networks and generate a collective sense of hopefulness. I’m sure this goes without saying, but inclusivity must be paramount in community building. Not everyone has email, speaks the same language, or behaves the same way in Byrd Park. And yet, even if we don’t relate to or fully understand everyone we live near, we gotta make new connections and look out for each other. So, I expect that this work will take us to new places - out of our comfort zones.

Second, any action to make a neighborhood safer should be measured against one important criterion: Will this prevent crime? In other words, will the people planning the next shooting or robbery say to themselves, “I’m not going to do this thing because those people... had a meeting.”??? Well, it depends who is at that meeting. But, with many proposals, the answer will be “No.” There is safety in numbers, and criminals tend to show their true cowardice by focusing on those who appear isolated. So, meetings can be effective for creating a more cohesive community and make us feel like we’re doing something proactive. At best, meetings generate work. Hopefully, that work will prevent further violence in our midst. But, let’s be real. Outside of Windsor Farms, dealing with the violent and depraved conditions of acute poverty is a daily task for all of us throughout Richmond, to one degree or another. So, let’s be sure that we don’t settle for symbolic action or insular committees. The roots of Richmond’s violent streak are deep-seeded to say the least, and band-aids and barriers won’t fix it.

Third, understanding patterns in violent criminal behavior not only helps solve crimes, but counteracts fear of the unknown in the public. We must not put our heads in the sand (or let the police/press do that for us). When people fire 12 bullets into a house on Idlewood, crash into houses/cars on Maplewood, and then run off down the street in broad daylight, they surely get seen by someone. Was Joseph Wynn sitting on his porch on that chaotic day? Was the gangster credo of “silence is golden” (or “stop snitchin”) brought to bear on Wynn, and by extension intimidation of our whole neighborhood? Or is the violence attracted by the various houses/apartments/intersections that openly traffic in drugs a stones throw from the 3rd district police department on Meadow Ave? Where is the investigative reporting right now? Information is power, and right now all that is circulating is fear and anxiety. If we are going to get organized, we must first get informed (the numerous speculations and holes in my own understanding of the recent Byrd Park shootings are a case in point).

Anyhow, I hope that my message here is clear. By definition, communities do not run; they pull together. We have access to police and public officials, but we also have each other and our own creativity. I hope that we choose the right tools for the different jobs that arise in the effort to make Byrd Park a safer place.

(comments are greatly appreciated as I'm really not intentionally doing anything here other than thinking out loud)

forwarded email:

URGENT!!!!! Neighborhood Meeting
It is official that we will meet with officers from the 3rd precinct on Saturday September 8th at 9am. The meeting will be held at the Roundhouse in Byrd Park.
Please take these next two weeks to let all your neighbors know. We need to
realize that it is not a few that make a difference but the entire group as
a whole.

We are fighting for our Neighborhood.


  1. I second that opinion... but we also need to be responsible for letting the police know which houses are causing the most problems... I am sure they already have an idea, and hopefully will increase the patrols through our neighborhood... hopefully the upcoming meeting will generate some ideas and spark even more efforts from the community and from the police department...

  2. Last night, amidst the inspiring frenzy of emails, one person said that they had spoken to a police officer on her street. The cop said that the 3rd precinct was stepping up patrols in Byrd Park by three-fold. He also said that Mr. Wynn's murder was a domestic dispute.

    At first, this offered some relief. But then, suspicion. After the Harvey family murders, didn't the police go door-to-door telling Woodland Heights residents that the break-in and mulitple homicide was not a random act and that no one had anything to worry about. This was a willful deception.

    Anyhow, today I've talked to one or two people who've said that Wynn's brother shot him over an inheritance (although I haven't seen any press on this). So, I'm feeling a little embarrassed for jumping to conclusions... like I've watched too much tv or something.

    On the the other hand, Kelly is right that Byrd Park has way too many people who are brazen about their drug-dealing. It sets the scene for much more destructive and violent behavior. Many in the neighborhood feel like it has been swept under the rug for too long (by police and residents alike). Being told not to worry when you know something is wrong always sounds like BS.

    Obviously, a neighborhood has as many perspectives on a given sitguation as there are people. Even in my household, there are two contrasting reactions. My wife's instict is to move and mine is to stay and wait it out. What kind of compromise is possible? Well, for the time being, we've decided to organize.

    (the flyer that I've attached is my wife's graphic design handy-work)

  3. kim m.3:56 PM

    I am glad you started a blog on this subject. I too have my opinions about what we can do as a neighborhood but I'm not sure I want to inundate everyone's email everyday to say what I have to say on the matter.
    Frankly, I'm comforted by the fact that most of the responses have been to do something as a group. I for the first time in two years have more names, addresses and phone numbers of my fellow neighbors than I ever got from a block party or a neighborhood meeting. If nothing else comes from this at least I think I may have numbers I can call if I have a problem. In the big scheme of things I can't see how any of this is negative even if it did develop from fear.
    I for one don't have any unrealistic expectations that a meeting will lower my taxes, get fresh paint on any houses, or instantly clean up the crime. But I do think if I find out from neighbors that a well know drug dealer drives a purple ford pick up I'll keep an eye out and pick up the phone and call the police if I see something suspicious.
    Thanks for giving me a place to post my opinion.

  4. Keep the comments coming. This conversation will continue in many forms (online and off) long after the upcoming meeting. So, I think it's especially important to keep the day-to-day frustrations in perspective and realize that we can make a difference in our neighborhoods through communication. Do I sound like Stuart Smalley? Anyhow, it's really gratifying to read what Kim has shared here. I'll be back to blogging about kababs and such one day. But until then, this subject will remain on my front burner.

  5. Thanks Jason. I did not know about the meeting until I happened on your post tonight (via River City Rapids). I will pass the word to others in my area (2100 block of Maplewood).


  6. Hey... I couldn't make the meeting today, could you update us on what happened?

    - A fellow Byrd Park resident

  7. Vic S.7:24 AM

    Who said blogs are for vanity only? Great series of posts, Jason. I hope some positive outcomes result from the meeting and these posts.


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